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Woman wins ‘People’ magazine’s most beautiful


By Brian Goslow


When Elissa Campbell, 56, of Salisbury joined her husband, Robert, 66, for a photo shoot at a friend’s property earlier this year, she had no idea it would land her inside People magazine’s 2014 “Most Beautiful” issue as a winner of its “Real Beauty at Every Age” contest — “a serendipitous, unexpected opportunity,” she said — and have her flown to the West Coast to appear on The Queen Latifah Show alongside Hollywood superstars.

Her selection could be a sign that slowly, but surely, society is starting to celebrate the beauty of all its members, not just the young.

Entering the contest wasn’t Campbell’s idea. In January, Campbell, who works in advertising, and her husband, who is retired after a career with the Boston & Maine Railroad, served as models for a photo shoot for a friend looking to add some needed photographs to his professional portfolio. The Campbells had been doing some modeling for the last few years. They must have liked what they saw.

“Back in March, his (the photographer’s) wife emailed me and said, ‘Do you know that People is doing this contest? You might want to think about submitting a photo,’ ” Campbell recalled. “I said, ‘Thank you for suggesting that’ — and sort of forgot about it. I’ve never done anything like that so I didn’t think about it.”

Then, unbeknown to her, Campbell’s husband submitted one of the photos to People on her behalf. “Suddenly, we were contacted by People saying, ‘You’re getting votes on your photo.’ That was followed by notifications that I was a finalist and then, a few days later, ‘You’ve won.’ ”

That set off a whirlwind series of events, starting with a trip to New York City to be photographed for the issue alongside other contest winners chosen from four age groups — 20s, 30s, 40s and 50s. “We’re all from very different walks of life,” Campbell said of the four winners. “Some of them were looking to launch a career from it in some form or fashion, perhaps in broadcasting or that type of thing, and others were just looking at it in terms of possible job opportunities or as a confidence builder.”

Being flown to Los Angeles for the official announcement of the issue’s “Most Beautiful” cover selection and an appearance on The Queen Latifah Show gave her a taste of the Hollywood lifestyle. Oscar winning movie actress Lupita Nyong’o, who starred in 12 Years a Slave, was among the other winners.

“It was exciting being driven to the Sony Pictures lot where you have all these huge sound stages and buildings where they’re shooting movies and different TV programs,” Campbell said. “You go in there and there is a huge staff of people who were all very lovely and accommodating.”

Stars — including William Shatner, Josh Dallas and Ginnifer Goodwin — paraded on and off the set during the show — as well as the People contest winners. “You have to walk out on stage individually down this little runway to be interviewed by Queen Latifah standing up in front of the audience,” Campbell said. “It’s quite energizing, to be honest.”

Because People had a well-honed campaign to promote the issue, Campbell couldn’t tell anyone in advance about her win except her husband. “He was very pleased and excited for me, of course, because he had followed through and done something about it,” she said. “He’s always been my champion as far as getting me to be out there more as far as this sort of thing goes.”

When the big day of the Queen Latifah broadcast came, Darlene Sweeney of WSM Talent and Modeling Agency of Newburyport, who represents the Campbells, arranged for a gathering of friends to join them at a local restaurant for the airing of the show; the following day, she was on the front page of her local paper.

Campbell is aware of the potential opportunities the selection might provide for her and her husband, who’ve already done commercial work in print and video advertising. With boomers rapidly becoming the biggest part of the country’s population, friends have told the couple they should do more modeling work.

The couple initially got into modeling because people would ask them if they were models or if they had modeled in the past. “It’s one of those things, like public speaking or things like that, that a lot of us fear or have trepidation about or something I would never have thought of doing myself,” Campbell said.

She attributes her entrance into the field to out-of–the-box thinking — and her husband’s encouragement. “It has helped me to get over that sort of fear and have more confidence in myself. You would think by the time most people hit their 50s they’re in their stride and they’re not really worrying about anything,” but that’s not always the case, she said.

Part of the reason for her “youthful” exuberance? Living on the North Shore for the past 20 years.

“We really love it,” Campbell said. “It offers a lot as far as lifestyles and outdoors and culture — music, art, great restaurants — a little bit of everything.”

More importantly, she stays physically active.

“My husband and I make it a ritual to get up pretty early and just get out and walk,” Campbell said. “We utilize the gym where we live and try to do a little bit of weight training. I wouldn’t say we’re the pictures of perfection — it’s just about keeping ourselves healthy, strong and fit as we age so we can do things like spontaneously jumping on a bike for a ride or if we want to spend the day gardening or help friends out doing some landscaping, we can handle it.”

And her now trademark hair color?

She was a medium brown brunette until she was in her 30s and her hair began to gray. “Then I had to color, color, color — and it didn’t bother me to do that,” Campbell said. “But by the time I hit 40, my hairstylist, who was a great colorist and making a ton of money on me said, ‘I don’t know why, but I really think you should just let your hair go. I think it’s going to look great.’ ”

While the transition process was “painstaking,” she eventually found that she was used to her natural hair color and people — especially women — started stopping her.

“They’d say, ‘Wow, how did you do it? What was it like?’ So I go through this conversation of my experience with it. I never realized how important that was to other women and that it sort of has given them the confidence to want to do it now,” Campbell said.

Part of that talk includes women’s struggles with getting older. “It engages another conversation because invariably, people will start talking about not so much their hair color, but what that badge of honor means,” she said. “They wonder, ‘If I let my hair color go gray, whom do I become?’ or ‘How do I look to the outside world?’ especially if some of them have young children or teenagers. There are always different reasons behind why people do and don’t do it.”

Lyn Tackett, aesthetician and owner of Genesis Studio Spa in Waterloo, Iowa, specializes in makeovers for women over 50 and anti-aging skin care. “The industry has me use that term “anti-aging” because it’s what the public knows. The truth is, we all age and there is no product that can stop it. However, I believe we can embrace aging with good skin care and a good attitude on life.”

She encourages her customers to embrace, rather than run from, aging. “Beauty is timeless, so I help my clients learn to age gracefully and naturally. We have many examples of gorgeous white-haired, silver-haired ladies well into their years.”

Tackett said her goal, as an aesthetician and makeup artist, is to change the industry’s attitude toward older women. “Most cosmetic companies feature flawless-skinned, very young models to demonstrate — of all things — anti-aging products to reduce spots, discoloration, etc. If the industry really wants to help women and increase their profits, it should use real-life women and more models over 50, like (professional makeup artist and Bobbi Brown Cosmetics CCO) Bobbi Brown.”

Massachusetts-based professional makeup artist and trainer Helen Sheldon Beaumont said that many brands of makeup and fashion have chosen to showcase women over 50 this year and that today’s society celebrates women not just for their outward beauty, but for their accomplishments. “Beauty is a trait that radiates from within, coming from wisdom, confidence and light,” she said.

Makeup can be used to enhance a personal feature you want to celebrate — or invoke a spark of confidence when you need a boost, Beaumont said. “A red lipstick takes more than perfect lips to pull off — it takes a woman who isn’t afraid to show off her best self.”

She sees makeup like a wardrobe. “Some women feel beautiful and courageous in a navy suit and heels. Some feel best in jeans and a T-shirt,” Beaumont said. “Some love flowered blouses and others love all black. Each look great because they feel great wearing them.”

Beaumont tells women to celebrate their best feature — and to remember that a little red gloss can brighten anyone’s smile. “It’s ageless, timeless and always looks great on anyone,” she said.

Some remain skeptical about whether marketers have really changed their direction. “Nothing much has really changed,” said Dr. Richard Goedkoop, a retired professor of communication at La Salle University in Philadelphia. “Advertisers and other media-content producers would not emphasize the beauty of older populations unless it added to their ability to reach them and sell their products and services.”

Goedkoop said while advertisers still prefer to reach the more youthful 18-49 target group, the older generation tends to be the higher proportion of the audience for some of the programs and films aired on television.

“Age is only a number,” Campbell states on the People website. She hopes that others will follow her in embracing that thinking. “It’s not to say I’m waking up every day embracing getting older or there aren’t things that I’m critical about myself, whether it’s physical or wanting to do more in my life or accomplish more,” she said. “Therein lies the challenge.”

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